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Rays swap starters, go with Kazmir in Game 5

Scott Kazmir, throwing in the bullpen at Fenway Park before Tuesday’s game, pitched solidly in the ALDS and is eager to redeem himself for a poor outing in Game 2 of the ALCS at the Trop.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Scott Kazmir, throwing in the bullpen at Fenway Park before Tuesday’s game, pitched solidly in the ALDS and is eager to redeem himself for a poor outing in Game 2 of the ALCS at the Trop.

BOSTON — The Rays had several well thought-out reasons — some more stated than others — for changing their rotation and starting Scott Kazmir instead of James Shields in tonight's Game 5 of the ALCS.

But for an organization usually steeped in optimism, it was most interesting that they made the decision for what seemed to be the worst-case scenarios.

By making the change, they avoid having Shields pitch in Boston, where he has been horrible (0-3, 10.13). They'll have Kazmir pitch preceding an off day, allowing them to go early and often to the bullpen with the cushion of not disrupting the next game.

And — as much as the Rays want to wrap up their first World Series berth tonight — they talked a lot about the comfort of having Shields on the mound for Game 6 Saturday at home, where he has been dominant (9-2, 2.59 ERA and two solid postseason starts).

"We're just doing what we think is the right thing to do," manager Joe Maddon said.

What that seems to say, in the simplest form and the best case, is that the Rays have more confidence in Kazmir winning Game 5 tonight than Game 6 Saturday, and that they wanted him to pitch with as much margin for error as possible.

Maddon acknowledged "everybody's trepidation" about Kazmir, admitting that with Kazmir's inconsistency "you just don't know as much" what he'll do. Maddon confirmed that he'll be "less tolerant" of Kazmir's wildness and quicker to make a change, if warranted, tonight.

Departing from his own one-game-at-a-time mantra, he basically said the Rays are hoping for the best and planning for the worst.

"We're not looking to give them any kind of crack," Maddon said. "It's just, again, we believe that Kaz can pitch well. And if it does break down at all — trying to just manage the whole situation. You're looking at not only (tonight's) game and what can happen, then of course what can happen at home. We're just trying to look at the big picture with the whole thing."

He also said that if the series were 2-2, they would have stuck with Shields. "Under those circumstances you have a chance to go back home and you'd be down by one game, and you just feel at this particular juncture Shields has been more consistent," Maddon said.

That all could sound like a lack of confidence in Kazmir, who has been inconsistent much of the season and struggled during two postseason starts. After his Wednesday media session at Fenway Park, in which he said he was "very eager" for the chance to "try to redeem myself" for his shaky Game 2 outing, he claimed he was trying to not take it that way.

"It's a positive, but at the same time you kinda want to maybe address it a little bit differently," he said. "It is what it is. The way everything's going right now, you can't really say anything because I haven't really produced. I just wish it was handled a little bit differently. But it's all good."

Kazmir had said Tuesday it "might be a good idea" to make the change since umpire Derryl Cousins — whom Kazmir criticized heavily after a June start — will be behind the plate for Game 6. But Wednesday, both Maddon and Kazmir insisted that was not a factor in the decision. Other issues that may have been factors: Kazmir will be on regular rest and routine and the Rays are facing Boston's best in Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Shields, who threw a light bullpen session Wednesday and would be working on seven days' rest, wasn't particularly thrilled with the change, either.

"I would have liked to pitch (tonight), personally, but it's a decision they made, and I'm fine with it, perfectly fine with it," he said. "I wouldn't have minded pitching here to kind of redeem what everyone talks about, but that's the way the game goes."

The Sox, however, seemed to like it.

"Not that big a deal," David Ortiz said. "I think right now Shields is pitching better than Kazmir. But he's pitched good here. So you just go from there."

If the Red Sox were to come back from the 3-1 deficit to win the series — they have done it in the ALCS a record three times — the decision to change the rotation will be hugely second-guessed. But Maddon is not concerned. He, executive vice president Andrew Friedman and pitching coach Jim Hickey have been talking about the possibility since before the series and are convinced it's the better plan.

"If you let it go the other way and Shields doesn't pitch well and maybe we lose and then all of a sudden we go back," Maddon said. "It's just our best call."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays swap starters, go with Kazmir in Game 5 10/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 7:03pm]
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